Apr. 20, 2014

Sunday Brunch at the Old Country Buffet

by Anne Caston

Here is a genial congregation,
well fed and rosy with health and appetite,
robust children in tow. They have come
and all the generations of them, to be fed,
their old ones too who are eligible now
for a small discount, having lived to a ripe age.
Over the heaped and steaming plates, one by one,
heads bow, eyes close; the blessings are said.

Here there is good will; here peace
on earth, among the leafy greens, among the fruits
of the gardens of America's heartland. Here is abundance,
here is the promised
land of milk and honey, out of which
a flank of the fatted calf, thick still
on its socket and bone, rises like a benediction
over the loaves of bread and the little fishes, belly-up in butter.

"Sunday Brunch at the Old Country Buffet" by Anne Caston from Flying Out with the Wounded. © New York University Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1841 that the first "detective story" was published: "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," by Edgar Allan Poe (books by this author). In the story, C. August Dupin reads about the murder of a mother and daughter in a Paris street. The police are baffled, and Dupin decides to offer up his services. He finds a hair at the crime scene that he realizes does not belong to a human, and eventually he pieces together enough evidence to solve the case: The murder was committed by an orangutan who had been held in captivity by a sailor and who murdered the first woman with a straight razor and the second by strangling her.

The story is narrated not by Dupin but by his slightly less competent sidekick, just as Dr. Watson would narrate the Sherlock Holmes stories that first appeared 45 years later. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Holmes stories, said, "Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?"

Poe wrote two more stories featuring the detective C. August Dupin, although the word "detective" did not exist yet: "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" (1842) and "The Purloined Letter" (1844).

It's the birthday of fantasy writer Peter S. Beagle (books by this author), born in New York City (1939). He's best known for The Last Unicorn (1968), the story of a unicorn who realizes she is the last unicorn who is not imprisoned, and sets out on a quest to free the others. He said: "It's hard for me to do anything but marvel at the impact the story has had. It was the hardest, least fun thing I've ever had to write, and back when I finished it I was convinced I'd utterly failed to do justice to the idea." The Last Unicorn has sold more than 5 million copies.

His other books include The Innkeeper's Song (1993), The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances (1997), Mirror Kingdoms (2010), and Sleight of Hand (2011).

It's the birthday of novelist Sebastian Faulks (books by this author), born in Donnington, England (1953).

When he was 14, he read novels by Dickens and D.H. Lawrence and decided that he would be a novelist. He graduated early from high school, and before he went on to Cambridge, he spent a year studying in Paris. He said: "At that time, France was a terribly old-fashioned, unmodernized country. You could branch off any main road in any of the provinces and in five minutes you would be back in the 1930s. I have this tremendous greed for the experience of the near past. I never wanted to be a centurion on Hadrian's Wall or to live in 18th-century London but I would fantastically like to be alive in the 1930s and '40s and France offered me that imaginative access to the past." When he started writing novels, he wrote a trilogy set in France, mostly in the era between World War I and World War II: The Girl at the Lion d'Or (1989), Birdsong (1993), and Charlotte Gray (1999).

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ian Watson (books by this author), born in Tyneside, England (1943), who said: "I see science fiction now as a survival strategy generally — a metaphorical tool for thinking about the future flexibly and boldly."

His books include The Embedding (1973), The Jonah Kit (1975), Deathhunter (1981), and The Great Escape (2002).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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